Edward Little’s Max Creaser before a recent practice in the EL gym. (Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham)AUBURN — The mob of teammates and fans started smothering Max Creaser at midcourt before he could even process what he had just done.

“I didn’t believe it was true,” Creaser said.

Edward Little’s Max Creaser hit a buzzer-beater against South Portland last week. (Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham)

Creaser isn’t the first basketball player to hit a game-winning shot at the buzzer to think maybe, just maybe, it was a dream.

One week ago, Creaser’s 3-pointer from the top of the key beat South Portland, 46-45, and gave his Edward Little team its second win in the closing seconds in eighth days. Austin Brown had hit a shot with 1.1 seconds left to beat Gorham, 52-50.

Even though he had been in the same situation little more than a week earlier, Creaser wasn’t expecting to take the final shot. The play, drawn up by coach Mike Adams during a timeout, was designed to go to Wol Maiwen. But a pair of South Portland defenders got a hand on the pass to Maiwen, deflecting it to Creaser.

Like a baseball or softball coach telling his fielders to expect the ball to be hit to him, Adams tells his players to be ready for anything in those game-ending situations. But Creaser admitted taking the shot did not enter his mind until he saw the ball headed in his direction.

“You probably should think that,” he said, “but I was just thinking I was going to cut through and go to my spot because I thought it was going to get to Wol.”

The play didn’t unfold as Adams and the Eddies had practiced it, but it also wasn’t an accident that it worked.

“Creaser was in the spot he was supposed to be with that play. That’s why every team (practices) it, to put your best players in situations where they can do what they do,” Adams said. “And yeah, we got a lucky bounce, but it wasn’t lucky that he caught the ball there.”

Creaser caught the ball square to the basket, with his feet set and in good position to shoot. That wasn’t an accident, either. The Eddies go over game-ending and buzzer-beating situations frequently.

“I’d say at least once a practice,” Creaser said. “It helps a lot. We know what to do when we’re in a last-second situation.”

One reason to practice those situations so frequently is to prepare players for the fact that the defense can usually guess where the ball is going.

“Things are taken away,” Adams said, “so it’s other guys stepping up and making plays that were given to them.”

Edward Little’s girls team beat the buzzer several times en route to its first state title last year. Coach Chris Cifelli had the luxury of several strong shooters from whom to choose in those situations.

“You try to set it so you get your best look available,” Cifelli said. “You hope that you get it with one of your shooters, the person that you want to get that touch on it. But I think at the same time you’re just hoping to get a good look.”

Some coaches might try to improvise a new play in those situations, but Cifelli and Adams said they’re hesitant to try something new.

“The kids have to be confident with it,” Cifelli said. “You certainly don’t want to do something you haven’t practiced.”

But even a well-rehearsed play still doesn’t guarantee anything.

“You can practice it all you want; until you’re in a game, you don’t know the pressure that a kid feels,” Adams said.

Timing has a lot to do with getting that good look, as does luck.

Cifelli recalled a play in 2017, when he was still a Red Eddies assistant coach, that was similar to Creaser’s that beat the buzzer.

The play was designed to go inside to center Jordyn Reynolds, who got not just one but two shots off. After her second was rejected, she got the loose ball and kicked it out to Piper Norcross, who found an open Jade Perry behind the 3-point arc on the right wing. Perry, then a sophomore, drilled a 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat Brunswick on what happened to be her 16th birthday.

“All I remember is Piper looking at me, and there was barely any time left, and I was out there by the KVAC (logo on the court) and hit a 3,” Perry said. “I didn’t really think about it when it came out of my hands. I just knew there was no time left and somebody had to do it.”

Sometimes, though, that somebody plays for the other team. Setting up a last-second play can backfire, too, as Cifelli’s Eddies learned this season in losses to Oxford Hills and Scarborough.

“Crazy things happen. Twice we’ve been victimized by, literally, unlucky bounces,” Cifelli said. “We had set plays up that we felt confident about, and credit to those other teams for playing right to the end. They didn’t have a chance to set it up.”

“We’ve been there, too,” Adams said. “If your kids execute what you want to do defensively, take away what you want to take away, there’s nothing else that you can do. It’s a game and players make plays, on both sides of the ball.”

Indeed, coaches and players know from experience that buzzer-beaters don’t discriminate. One day, they can be the ones rushing the court to celebrate a fantastic finish. The next day, they can be the ones hanging their heads in defeat.

Creaser even feels some empathy for the South Portland players whose hearts he’d ripped out last week.

“It feels worse when it happens against you,” Creaser said, “because you’re working so hard to win and then they just hit it right in your face.”

“Still,” he added, “it felt great for me to do it.”

Portrait of Edward Little’s Max Creaser before a recent practice in the EL gym. (Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham)


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